Thrillin’ for Trillin

Calvin Trillin is my favorite food writer. Every year he leads a walking tour of Chinatown as part of The New Yorker Festival and every year I try to get tickets and fail. I sit there on the Ticketmaster website and keep loading up the page until the tickets are made available at 12 PM and then I quickly say how many I want and then I’m quickly rejected. “Sold Out,” the message says. The tickets go that fast.

But this morning was different. This morning I sat there and loaded up the page over and over again and when it asked how many tickets I wanted I said “two.” The scrolling bar screen came on and then, miraculously, it showed two tickets available and I snatched them. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, your beloved Amateur Gourmet (and Craig who owes me big!) will be taking a walking tour of Chinatown with Calvin Trillin on October 8th. Because the tour is secretive and because it’s a yearly occurrence, I’m not sure how much I’ll blog about it but we’ll see. At the very least I’ll tell you if Calvin Trillin uses chopsticks and how much soy sauce he applies to his soup dumplings. Here’s to being persistent! I’m seriously psyched.

16 thoughts on “Thrillin’ for Trillin”

  1. You rock AG, kudos! Now I must reveal my woeful ignorance and go google “Calvin Trillin” to see what I’ve been missing out on…

  2. Sweeeeet! I’ve read Feeding a Yen and loved it. I can only imagine how wonderful this experience will be for you! Can’t wait to hear about it. :)

  3. I always wonder about those tours, if whether the money you pay takes you off the beaten path towards some new discovery. And then in a place like Chinatown, how many of those new discovery places even understand even a little english. I bet there’s a ton of good stuff down East Broadway, but all the ctown reviews center around Mott, Elizabeth, and Bowery. Hell, I am chinese and I don’t know what’s in the ‘true’ parts of chinatown. Let us know if they just go to Joe’s Shanghai and Peking Duck House, or if there’s truly something special about the tours.


    READERS of The New Yorker have eclectic taste. When tickets went on sale for the mag’s upcoming New Yorker Festival, it found that its “Fiction Into Film” seminar, with Michael Cunningham, Liev Schreiber and Ed Norton, and its “Come Hungry” tour of Chinatown, with Calvin Trillin, sold out in one minute. Meanwhile, a sneak preview of the new “Borat” flick, with Sacha Baron Cohen, and an architectural tour of Zac Posen’s home sold out in three minutes.

  5. Oh yes, he is my favorite food writer as well! In a humble taqueria in East Los Angeles, near my home, you can read his reviews of this little restaurant, they are prominently displayed on the walls. According to Calvin Trillin, they make the best fish tacos here at Tacos Baja Ensenada. How lucky for you NYC folks to have the opportunity to tour Chinatown with him. But he loves our fish tacos!

    Tacos Baja Ensenada

    5385 Whittier Bl. East L.A.


  6. Yeah! That is so exciting. One of the worst things about having an international subscription to the New Yorker is seeing the adverts for the New Yorker festival. So much good stuff, how do you select just one event to go to?

  7. Sounds like you will have a great time. Anyhow, I was just thinking… it is that time of year again… are you going to be doing your Gourmet Survivor III?

  8. William O'Shaughnessy

    Maestro Sirio: the Ringmaster

    broadcast on WVOX and WRTN

    by William O’Shaughnessy

    May 15, 2006

    On Thursday … glamour and style return to the New York dining scene.

    The great Sirio Maccioni, America’s quintessential restaurateur, returns to center stage with the third incarnation of his legendary Le Cirque, a New York institution.

    It is springtime, 2006. Sirio Maccioni is 73. He may yet do something in Paris or Dubai. But even he knows this will be one of his last high wire acts in the center ring of the great city where he has been a featured performer for so long. It is thus appropriate all this will occur this week on the east side of Manhattan on 58th Street.

    The relentless clock reminds us it is 2006 and we are all mortal. But for at least this one special night, in Sirio’s honor, I hope Joe DiMaggio roams centerfield once more at Yankee Stadium. Frank Sinatra should be on stage at Carnegie Hall crooning a Cole Porter song with exquisite diction. William S. Paley again heads the Tiffany network where the cufflinks are just a little smaller and more discrete than those of NBC and ABC. Over on Broadway, Ethel Merman belts out a show tune. Pele is coming down the soccer pitch at the Meadowlands toward an amazing goal. Michael Jordan ascends skyward in mid-air toward a basket. And even now Bobby Short still sits in a pencil spotlight at the Carlyle while people hold hands as he sings, “I Can’t Get Started With You …”

    When I think of Sirio and what he means to this town, I want to roll back the years to a time when the sportswriter Jimmy Cannon wrote pure poetry on a typewriter in a lonely room near Times Square. Mario Cuomo is on his feet screaming into the night on a flatbed truck in the garment center with elderly Jewish women leaning out the window. Toots Shor is on a bar stool at a glorious saloon which bears his name talking about girls with Shipwreck Kelly, Mark Hellinger and Bob Considine.

    Gentle Wellington Mara sits on the Giants’ bench watching Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote and Charley Connerly. Allie Sherman is the coach.

    It was like this when Sirio started. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are on the screen at the Roxy. Jock Whitney and the Trib are still around. Louis Armstrong is on stage at Radio City. And Nat “King” Cole is caressing a love song in a supper club. William B. Williams opens his WNEW radio program and says into an old RCA microphone “Hello World!” Jimmy Breslin is out on the streets covering a story with Murray Kempton and Pete Hamill. The regal Mabel Mercer sits in a winged back chair enunciating Alec Wilder lyrics. John XXIII is dragging the church of Jesus into the modern age. George Plimpton rides his bicycle down Madison Avenue.

    Nelson Rockefeller and the elegant Gianni Agnelli, “L’Avocatto,” are walking into “21.” John F. Kennedy is thrusting that right forefinger into the air, arranging his tie and pushing tousled hair out of his eyes. Sugar Ray Robinson, glistening with sweat, is dancing out of harm’s way in a boxing ring. Henry Kissinger is discussing great international issues. And Adlai Stevenson of Illinois is making the Russians sweat over at the United Nations while Jack Javits and Daniel Patrick Moynihan are up on the floor of the Senate representing New York once more. Mel Allen is on the radio: “Hello there, everybody!” Robert DeNiro is in front of a camera on a movie soundstage. Ossie Davis is speaking pure truth to an audience at a church in Harlem. Cary Grant just walked in to El Morocco. A young Frederic Fekkai is cooing “Hello, hello … you look so beautiful” to a society dame whose locks he has just shorn.

    Don Rickles is regaling an audience with rapid-fire wisecracks. No one was ever faster. Or funnier. Tiger Woods is teeing up at Winged Foot and the ball soars out over a gentle Westchester fairway on a glorious spring morning. Judy Garland is on stage at the Forest Hills Music Festival as planes roar overhead bound for Kennedy Airport. Jerry Lewis is in a movie theatre making people laugh and cry once again as only the great clown can.

    Gay Talese is coming down Lexington Avenue with his fine clothes and a very good cigar. The saloon singer Hugh Shannon sits at a piano in a cabaret with velvet slippers belting out society tunes.

    Robert Merrill is singing the national anthem at Yankee Stadium for George M. Steinbrenner III. Michael Carney’s band is playing a society benefit and swings into Cole Porter’s “Down in the Depths on the 90th Floor.” But he opened with “All The Things You Are.”

    Kitty Carlisle Hart is at Feinstein’s every night. Matt Dennis is in town for a week at Michael’s Pub. And Murray Grand, who looks like Ed Koch, is in a small bistro in the Village whispering his own songs into the night. “I’m Too Old To Die Young” and “Guess Who I Saw Today?”

    Mortimer’s, La Foret, El Morocco, Lutece, the Stork Club, Toots Shor, Rocky Lee’s, Basin Street East, Parioli Romanissimo and Michael’s Pub are still open. Jerry Berns and Mack and Pete Kriendler run the invincible “21.” Marietta Tree, Babe Paley and Patsy Preston are running a benefit. And at The Colony a young Tuscan with slim hips, an easy smile, fierce eyes and “correct” manners is just starting to be noticed by café society.

    I know, I know it is now 2006. But Sirio Maccioni, who comes out of the glory days in our town, is still in the game. He is to his profession what each of these spectacular luminaries were to their own tribe and time. All of them – and Sirio – are not merely among the gifted and elite. They are simply the best who ever existed. In any age, in any season, they will never be equaled or duplicated. They have earned the right to the majestic Latin appellation “sui generis” taught to us by the great Fordham orator Malcolm Wilson, who was governor after Nelson. It means unique and able to be defined only in their own terms. Sirio belongs to that exclusive, rarefied fraternity.

    I know I can’t turn back the tick-tock of the stately clock to the days when he started in this town, but for just this one night, opening night, let all politicians everywhere look like John Lindsay, walk into a room like Nelson Rockefeller, carry themselves like Javits and think and speak like Mario Cuomo.

    Endow them with Hugh Carey’s quick and delightful wit, Ed Koch’s endearing and enduring charm and Brendan Byrne’s natural grace.

    I know we are living, as Jimmy Breslin reminds us, in a “between you and I” age. And all these magnificent and dazzling personages have been replaced by the likes of Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce Knowles, Jessica Simpson, Pamela Anderson, Carmen Elektra, Brad Pitt and Lindsay Lohan. And I’m aware that Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton are in the Senate of the United States where once Jacob Javits, Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Robert Kennedy sat.

    This is a tough, unforgiving town and he will have to get past Frank Bruni of the Times, Steve Cuozzo of the Post, Adam Platt of New York magazine, Bob Lape of Crain’s, Gail Greene, and John Mariani. But Sirio’s legion of admirers in this town pray the music from the new joint will last for a good, long time. Even his peers and competitors, who couldn’t believe it when the Italian was honored by the French government a few years back, hope he makes it. It will be the greatest score for the gifted, graceful Tuscan impresario who walks with kings and prime ministers but still remembers the Germans sweeping through his town and breaking down his grandfather’s door. (Sirio will tell you the Allies were just as bad.)

    I’m trying to tell you there is something quite special about the man. And I am not alone. It was to Sirio’s table the magnificent Mayor Rudy repaired in the desperate days following 9/11. An exhausted Giuliani would come in late at night and have supper in the kitchen at the old LeCirque with the dust and soot and the horrible stench of vaporized death on his clothes. The two sons of Montecatini would talk over a bowl of pasta late into the night and Giuliani would then go home to catch a few hours of sleep until another dawn when he would be up again to rally the indomitable spirit of a city where Sirio Maccioni is the greatest restaurateur. Then. And now.

    The Italians have a word it for it: “Convivio,” which means you sit over food and wine and talk about life, love, politics and everything else. But mostly it’s about a celebration of life. And that too is Sirio: Convivio!

    The graceful Tuscan knows he exists alone in a changing profession which is now run by lawyers, speculators, bookkeepers and accountants. To be sure, there are other restaurants of standing and reputation in our town. Many are temples to culinary greatness and the fussy skill of the chef. Some with international reputations. But nobody is having any fun at their serious tables. I prefer to pay homage and do my praying in a church, not in restaurants out and about of an evening. There’s no magic, no music in these gastronomic cathedrals and absolutely, to be sure, no one is having any fun on their hard, slick banquettes.

    The proprietors are remote and imperious and possessed of stately manner and a self-importance which reflects the melancholy tenor of our time, an age in which we fight again as crusaders against unseen enemies whose language, religion and ancient tribal rivalries we don’t understand.

    There are a few exceptions to the formulaic, programmed and predictable venues of ambition and greed in the restaurant business. It is possible to spend a marvelous evening in the care and keeping of Gerardo Bruno, an authentic dining room dazzler who weaves his magic nightly at San Pietro. And DavidBurke and Donatella can be exhilarating when Burke is shuttling between his kitchen and knocking them down at his own bar. It is a “downtown” place, uptown and the manager Teddy is terrific. The glorious “21” still has a lot of lineage and cache if you can score a table with Milan, Joseph or Oreste. Meanwhile, up in the Bronx 91-year old “Mama” Rose Migliucci and her son Joseph still preside with love and devotion over Mario’s on Arthur Avenue. And Giuseppe Viterale always rolls a welcoming show at Cellini. The estimable Four Seasons, run by zany Julian Niccolini and sedate, serene Alex Von Bidder, still makes each visit special. Nino Selimaj of Nino’s is a class act. And so too is Giuliano Zuliani of Primola. And the original P.J. Clarke’s saloon on 55th Street is still a good place to enjoy the haze of an evening. Michael Tong still maintains Shun Lee Palace on East 55th Street as the most stylish Chinese restaurant in the city. And any recitation of great restaurateurs in our home heath has to include Michael “Buzzy” O’Keefe who navigated New York City’s bureaucracy (and the Corps of Engineers) to establish the estimable River Café and Water Club. Both have become incubators for great chefs like David Burke, Charles Palmer, Larry Forgione, Brad Steelman and Rick Laakkonen. And the beat goes on at any venue over which this talented Irishman presides.

    Up in the country, a dear man named Charlie Kafferman and his marvelous, unpredictable partner James O’Shea, operate Litchfield’s West Street Grill as a warm, agreeable oasis. And Michael DiLullo of the Venetian, farther up in Torrington, an old Connecticut mill town, can hold his own against anybody.

    But when the great Sirio beckons from the center ring in the great city, even these accommodating joints must yield to his considerable genius.

    There are, abroad in the land, many other highly successful eateries where all is programmed and computerized. It is not unusual for entrepreneurial business types to own 10 or even 18 venues. These humorless souls talk of “synergy,” “return on investment” and design outrageous markups on water and wine. Some even charge for bread and butter. Sirio, however, is all about people enjoying themselves, having fun of an evening away from the problems and pressures of a world spinning out of control. He is really happy to provide nothing more than a stage for their courting rites. To others the whole thing is a business. To Sirio a profession. And he is the most sensitive, generous man in the field where glamour and style still carry the day.

    In upstate New York at the Cornell University Hotel School where they teach hospitality and the running of spas, restaurants and resorts, they don’t teach Sirio’s methods, because what he brings to a restaurant cannot be taught in a classroom by even the most gifted of instructors. It is called “intuition” and a generosity of spirit. It can’t be taught. They teach Danny Meyer, Nieporent, Steve Hansen, Alan Stillman and Nick Valenti. But the smartest graduates always head straight for Sirio’s employ. And it is the same way with the best and brightest from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He is the Winston Churchill of his profession.

    At other restaurants you encounter three Debbies, two Jennifers, one Chad, a Lance, a Tiffany and “Hi guys! So what do you folks feel like for dinner tonight?” At Le Cirque you are greeted by the graceful, attractive proprietor and his savvy deputies Mario Wainer and Benito Sevarin. And if you happen to be lucky enough to dine of an evening with a good looking woman like Nancy Curry O’Shaughnessy … on the way out … Sirio will whisper to her: “Why don’t you come for lunch tomorrow – without him?” He will say things like this to women even if their husband happens to be the King of Spain, an Agnelli or a Berlusconi, a Sulzberger, a Murdoch, a Rockefeller or a Speyer. The man has a passion for people which is equal almost to his love for his spectacular new granddaughter Stella – after whom the new upstairs party room is named.

    In the last few months, Sirio has been working out with the trainer Kevin Mills at the gym in his luxury apartment tower over the Museum of Modern Art. A camera crew even follows him into the gym each morning where his legs scream reminders of the “diminishments” we all suffer and that he has been moving through dining rooms for the better part of 50 years. But the minute that spotlight comes on this week and the titled and those of high estate walk in his new Le Cirque – the great Maccioni will be there at the podium inside the door where his presence alone will instantly roll the clock back to a more graceful time in our town.

    The Ringmaster has been miserable since he had to move out of the New York Palace two years ago. And he has rather resembled a caged lion over at Circo, his sons’ very successful restaurant on the West Side.

    And when he opens this Thursday to the applause of 2,000 admirers, he will be attended by Egidiana Palmieri, the talented and earthy beauty who gave up a singing career many years ago to cast her lot with a dashing Tuscan on a fast Vespa from the hill town of Montecatini. Egi and Sirio Maccioni will stand in the glare of the spotlights with their three sons: Mario, Marco and Mauro. And with Stella Sofia Maccioni who is not yet nine months, but has made the Times’ society page twice and Liz Smith four times!

    Adam Tihany, another certifiable genius, and Costas Kondylis, the charismatic architect, have created a spectacular new venue with a circus theme with monkeys and elephants suspended Calder-like from the ceilings to compliment Maccioni’s genius. Together with Sirio, they have taken millions of dollars, and several years off the life of Steven Roth, the head of Vornado, who is one of the smartest and most successful developers in New York. But he never saw anything like the Tuscan showman. Roth thus goes directly to Heaven for enduring all of Sirio’s “enthusiasms” for the last several months.

    But they did it. And Liz Smith, Cindy Adams, Richard Johnson, Judith and Rudy Giuliani, Michael Bloomberg, Silvio Berlusconi, William Zeckendorf, Punch Sulzberger, Juan Carlos of Spain, Bill Cosby, Tony Bennett, Barbara Taylor Bradford and her husband Bob, Steve Forbes, Marianna and George Kaufman, Rick Friedberg and Francine, the daughter of Sam LeFrak, Emilie O’Sullivan, Neil Siroka, Matilda and Mario Cuomo, Nancy Rutigliano, Susan and Jack Rudin, Edward Egan, the cardinal archbishop of New York, and Ray Kelly, the police commissioner, as well as LeRoy Neiman and Chuck Mangione will be there to herald his return. It is also expected there will be more than a few good looking girls … and one little one in the arms of her mother Francesca Maccioni who will flirt with her grandfather.

    New York becomes New York again when Sirio steps forward … once more into the spotlight, greeting people, loving them and being loved in return … at his LeCirque.

    An icon is properly restored. He has been a class act in every season of his life. And in every season of our lives.

    Sirio Maccioni is a marvelous New York story. It’s 2006. But he’s still here. In the center ring.

    William O’Shaughnessy

    is president of Whitney Radio and editorial director of stations WVOX and WRTN, Westchester, N.Y. He is a former chairman of Public Affairs for the National Association of Broadcasters and served as president of the New York State Broadcasters Association. During his 18-year service at NAB, he specialized in free speech and First Amendment issues.

    He is a director and chairman of the Endowment Committee of the Broadcasters Foundation of America, based in Greenwich, Connecticut.

    A self-styled “Rockefeller Republican,” he was active in the presidential campaign of President George H.W. Bush and served as chairman of Republicans for Mario Cuomo during each of his three successful campaigns for governor of New York.

    He is the author of “AirWAVES” (1999) and “It All Comes Back to Me Now” (2001), collections of his radio commentaries, essays and interviews, published by Fordham University Press. “More Riffs, Rants and Raves” was released in April, 2004. He has just started his Fourth volume “AGAIN! Run That By Me One More Time.”


    Cindy Hall Gallagher


  9. William O'Shaughnessy

    Dear Amateur Gourmet:

    That was so nice of you to post my meanderings and musings about The Great Sirio Maccioni.

    I’ve just discovered your website … and I think it’s a real service to those of us who eat out damn near every night of the week.

    I also understand that you and our young friend Mauro Lorenzo Maccioni were able to have a good talk about your unfortunate experience with your Mom and Dad at Le Cirque.

    Mauro is a wonderful young man. And I also hope you will permit me the observation that his two postings really represented a sincere cris de coeur and shows the great qualities all of us find in this extraordinary family. I have a feeling you two articulate young men would like each other instantly if we can arrange a return visit at one of their restaurants – either Circo on 55th Street or the mighty Le Cirque on 58th.

    Thanks again for the use of the hall and for letting me have my say.

    William O’Shaughnssy

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